Arts & Entertainment Editor
A lot can be learned from pairing things, like the recent Scuppernong book reading featuring essays about housing the dead and a coming-of-age memoir. The two authors, Thomas Mira y Lopez and Daisy Hernández, read chapters from their books and spoke on the contradictory subjects at the bookstore in downtown Greensboro on Friday.
Thomas Mira y Lopez, a New York City native and an MFA recipient of the University of Arizona, lives in Chapel Hill and is a 2017-2018 Kenan Visiting Writer. Mira y Lopez read from his creative nonfiction book, “The Book of Resting Places,” which is a concoction of personal narrative, mythology, journalism and history that links his father’s death to the cultural way we treat and bury the dead.
“The Book of Resting Places” came about for a few reasons, one being the death of his dad and the family’s debacle as what to do with his remains. From there, Mira y Lopez became interested in the cultural traditions of laying the dead and the multitude of ways we grieve.
“One of the reasons I was interested in writing about him,” Mira y Lopez said, referring to his dad, “was not so much to record his memories, but the memory of losing him.”
In the backroom of Scuppernong, he read from the essay entitled, “Monument Valley,” which was inspired by the puzzle app. The essay touches on the various difficulties with memory, such as how he should represent his dad in the book and the memories he had as his son, the memories his dad owned and those memories the people around him had of his dad. Mira y Lopez was interested in how all the thoughts were connected, especially between the living and the dead.
“I was losing my memories of him, I was losing my experience of knowing what he was like when he died,” he said. “I thought that was really interesting, how it’s almost like a double loss in a way – you lose, and you lose this conception of the loss.”
Mira y Lopez realized he was most likely not the only person who has felt the same weariness in forgetting a loved one. He took this thought and connected it to the various cultural ways people celebrate the dead, such as the world’s largest Cryonics Institute in south Arizona, the bacteria-ridden Catacombs of Rome, his family’s burial plots in Rio de Janeiro and more.
After Mira y Lopez read, Daisy Hernández read from a chapter in her memoir, “A Cup of Water Under My Bed.” Hernández was a former editor for ColorLines magazine and a reporter for The New York Times. Her writing can be found in The Atlantic, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and Code Switch. Today, she is a co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism and an assistant professor of the creative writing program at Miami University in Ohio.
Hernández’s book was originally written as a collection of essays, but after some push towards a memoir, she decided to focus on different themes in each chapter while keeping a narrative feel throughout.
The coming-of-age memoir focuses on her life as being part of a Cuban-Colombian family and the advice and stories of love, race and money that eventually solidified her identity. Hernández speaks honestly about the implications of being a female in an immigrant household, colonization and the exploration of her sexuality.
“I kind of wrote it to the 16-year-old me,” she said. “And that was basically because I took Toni Morrison’s advice, she says to ‘write the book you want to read,’ and I needed to read this book probably when I was 16, but it didn’t exist.”
Hernández initially wrote the book as a cathartic experience, bleeding her past onto paper. After editing the book, she realized the only way her readers would fully understand her experiences – such as her dad’s alcoholism and abuse and discovering her bisexuality – would be through explaining her choices and feelings.
“I want you to feel it,” she said. “Even if it wasn’t your experience.”
During the book reading, Hernández did grasp the attention of the limited audience, with her chapter about entering kindergarten and learning English for the first time. She metaphorically called English her future that by learning the language it would inextricably change the trajectory of her future as an immigrant.
“I was really thinking about what did that mean to grow up with these two languages,” Hernández said. “Who am I now as a result of this?”
The chapter became a catalyst for a candid discussion about the difficulties of learning a new language and becoming bilingual.
Though the book reading was competing with other interesting events, those that stayed had the opportunity to learn more about the books’ authors.
To buy “The Book of Resting Places” or “A Cup of Water Under my Bed” visit Amazon.com or Scuppernong Books.